A guide to finding and catching monster northerns in deep water
In early June, as the sun stays above the horizon longer, so begins the incredible Canadian summer. But as the shallows and surface temperatures start to warm up in many lakes, big pike are forced to seek out deeper, cooler water—and that makes them much more difficult to find. It also means it’s time for a change-up from those shallow-water tactics you’ve come to rely on.
Once you discover where the fish migrate to—and how to get to them—summer can be a prime time for targeting big pike. The key is figuring out what deepwater habitat best suits the pike in your lake, then attaching just the right lure to get into the strike zone. To catch giant summer pike, all it really takes are a few alterations to your fishing technique.
Where & When
With plenty of direct sunlight, it doesn’t take long for most of our waterways to warm up, usually by early June. By then, big pike will have completed their annual spawn and enjoyed a productive stay in the shallows to rebuild their energy reserves. Now’s the time they head for deeper, cooler water.
Such seasonal movements can make these fish hard to locate, but with a little experimentation and some technical help from maps and sonar, anyone can catch the big pike that otherwise seem to disappear during the peak of summer.
Start by looking for deepwater habitat adjacent to the shallow mud bays, creeks, rivers and south-facing shorelines that hold pike in the spring. Use a hydrographic map to quickly narrow your target area. Highlight rivers, creeks or other sources of flowing water with nearby deepwater structure. And look for tight contours, which indicate steep drops or long points extending into the lake, as well as wide contour gaps, which denote deepwater flats.
Rocky points, in particular, are midsummer pike favourites. Whether you’re fishing the main shoreline or areas adjacent to islands or shoals, look for cobble- to boulder-sized rocks to hold fish. The rocky drop-offs provide easy feeding zones for big pike, allowing them to trap their prey against the vertical substrate. The structure also acts like an elevator to take actively feeding fish to their food supply, then back to the cool comforts of the deep. Big fish like big easy meals, and the deep water is home to a variety of prey, such as whitefish, tullibee, smelt and even burbot, which mature pike key into.
As well, prey species will often be disbursed on deep flats, which in turn become prime feeding locations for pike. Flats near windswept shorelines are always a good bet, as the wave action washes baitfish toward land. Large waves make these flats even more productive by reducing water clarity, giving pike an advantage over the baitfish and triggering them to feed.
What & How
Getting lures down to deepwater pike can be challenging, but there are some simple techniques for quickly and methodically covering productive areas. Most midsummer pike relate to structure in depths of 20 to 60 feet; they’re deepwater creatures, but usually not as deep as most lake trout. There can be some overlap, however, and I’ve actually caught some monster pike while fishing for deepwater lakers. The experience has helped change my angling approach for big summer northerns.
Trolling the flats is a great way to cover lots of water in search of aggressive or actively feeding fish. Spoons, such as the Mepps Syclops, and crankbaits, such as the Rapala Super Shad Rap, are proven tackle for big pike. With their lifelike appearance and action, crankbaits are a great option for enticing strikes. Spoons, meanwhile, are highly visible and create vibrations that fish key in on, often triggering them to strike out of aggression.
To figure out what speed imparts the best action on the lure, run it beside the boat. Next comes getting it down deep enough. While there are cranks that will run to 20 feet or more, most trolling lures and spoons require weights, downriggers or diving planers to get to the fish. There are advantages to each technique, so you’ll need to decide what works best for you and the area you’re fishing.
In short, diving planers reduce the drag felt on the rod, while downriggers are easy to use and operate, providing confidence that you’re fishing at a specific depth. Clip weights or three-way swivels with bell sinkers, meanwhile, are quick and simple to use, and adapt to different angling conditions.
Pike are good visual feeders that look upward for meals, so it’s best to run your lure slightly above any fish that are feeding or cruising along or near the bottom. One to three ounces of weight is usually needed to get into the deepwater strike zone, depending on your trolling speed and the wave action.
Back-trolling always gives you more control over your favourite weighted rig, allowing you to stay overtop of your presentation. It can also help you feel the substrate, weeds and strikes, and to adjust line distance from the boat to ensure you’re always fishing the most productive areas.
Try to keep your lure within three feet of the bottom. Drop your rod tip to bounce your weight on the bottom, then lift the rod to troll your lure in the strike zone. If you don’t have clip weights, a three-way swivel with a bell sinker run off the bottom eyelet is an easy-to-fish alternative. Attach the sinker with a dropper line that’s up to three feet in length. Keep the weight in contact with the bottom and your lure will run off the back eyelet of the swivel at the preferred depth.
Jigs tipped with the likes of salted minnows or Gulp Leech, meanwhile, are great for working specific structures, such as rock points, deep weedbeds or rock walls. Jigs-and-blade baits let you sit directly over smaller pieces of structure, or target fish you’ve located on sonar. And thumping a big jig against rocks is like sending out a telegraph that it’s feeding time. When jigging for suspended fish, meanwhile, you can fish at the exact depth you mark baitfish on your sonar.
A bobber and quick-strike rig can also be effective when fishing specific structure. As well, drifting, anchoring or back-trolling can be used to stay over your target. Finding the best boat-control method, of course, depends on wind and wave conditions, but it’s key to fishing small or specific structure.
Whether you’re trolling or jigging, a depthsounder is crucial for finding and following contours along fish-holding structure. Also watch the sonar for suspended fish and baitfish-running baits and lures in the areas where big pike are used to feeding can be half the battle when it comes to hooking up with a lunker.
The other half of the battle is tackling these big fish with the appropriate rod and reel. A medium- to medium-heavy-action rod and level-wind or baitcasting reel are essential for landing fish quickly and minimizing the stress on these cold-blooded creatures.
Monofilament in the 12-pound-test category works well for trolling and landing fish quickly. Braided lines, on the other hand, are advantageous for fishing deep and telegraphing structure details and bites. Ultimately, having the right gear, and looking in the right places, will increase your success for hooking and landing those monstrous midsummer pike.
For deepwater pike, try one of these monster-producing spoons, hard-bodied baits or jigs.
Len Thompson (#4)
Luhr Jensen Krocodile (3/4-ounce)
Gibbs Ruby Eye Wiggler
Storm WildEye Swim Shad
Storm WildEye Suspending Shad
3/4-ounce jig tipped with a Berkley Gulp Leech
3/4-ounce jig tipped with a Berkley Gulp Shaky Shad